By Chandana Chakrabarti

Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad 500 007 (Andhra Pradesh)

What is a godman? God's ambassador? An intermediary between god and man? A being with supernatural powers who has an answer to every question and a solution to every problem? A courier between earth and heaven? Reincarnation of god himself? A sly god? Or just a glorified magician (glorified through) religion?

In fact, nothing more than a glorified magician; a magician who uses religion and the innate credulousness of man to glorify himself. And the price that you pay to engage a godman to buy you a little peace could wary between just blind faith to anything under the sun, depending on as far as you wish to go, or can afford.

How does one qualify to become a godman? The prerequisities: an imposing personality that 'radiates' a mesmeric, serene, almighty presence; an aura of confidence and power, a pair of agile hands deft at conjuring tricks; no scruples or inhibitions whatsoever; a generous measure of guile to be able to dupe gullible followers; and an incomparable disregard for moral, ethical values. A large flowing beard, or dense wiry hair forming a halo around the head, saffron robes, and wooden slippers would help you establish your bonafides in this profession. And you must make sure you have a matchless gift of the gab, access to powerful contacts from politicians to film stars, a faithful and equally crafty army forming an impenetrable security, a battery of assistants proficient in public relations and advertising; and a following which would represent a wide genre, scientists being specially useful to add to your credibility.

In the world of today with tension acquiring global context, who wouldn't like an easy, efficient and effortless handling of one's problems even it that meant patronising a godman? The result, therefore is the mushrooming of godmen, big and small, with varying prescriptions for salvation, to suit every pocket, every taste, every inclination. It has happened all over the world, but yet no country has excelled us in this regard. Our expert record in this regard is unbeatable Rajneesh, Mahesh Yogi Hare Rama Hare Krishna clan, Satya Sai Baba et al.

Frauds in the name of gods have been handed down from centuries past, and has not been entirely unknown even in the most developed parts of the world. The purpose has been universally, the same; to exploit vulnerable masses for material gains, satisfaction of personal vanity or attainment of prestige and influence. The environment in our country has been specially conducive to the nurturing of these godmen on account of the intrinsic pre-disposition of an Indian to acceptance of the supernatural, a situation which derives from the hold of tradition, custom, convention, and religion. To top it all, scientific temper, rational and logical thinking have been unable to permeate the fabric of our society. What makes the situation desparate is that a vast majority of even our educated-elite has implicit faith in the godmen and their 'powers'. Therefore, these miracle men get away inspite of having to their credit, besides their large following and the respect and reverence bestowed on them by the elite and the so called intellectuals, amassment of assets and properties worth a fortune and the privilege of raping gullible women in the guise of making their wish of bearing children through divine powers come true. The irony is that these very men who in the name of god and religion, inspire their large following to be deviant, for their personal benefit, are themselves ahteists of the first order, for if their own belief was so strong, would they have taken resort to such crafty means?

The staunch crusader against such unholy practitioners is the well known atheist and rationalist B. Premanand. Born in 1930, in a family of believers, Premanand naturally started off as a believer himself. His formal education ended when he was expelled from school in 1942 for participating in the national movement. Thus began Premanand's informal education at the Shrishaila Gurukula where education far from being divorced from everyday life was an integral part of it. And gradually began Premanand's search. The search for god, the search for miracles and the search for a true believer - a search that has not yet seen its end. This very search has taken Premanand on many a path from one ashram to another, from one swami to another throughout the length and breadth of the country, and finally from one baba to another. But all in vain, for Premanand saw no miracle. He only saw mysteries, demystifying which caused his scientific rational mind to great effort.

Inspired by Dr. Kovoor, Premanand finally took upon himself the task of relentlessly exploding the myth of human gods and spreading his word far and wide to be fearless, not to be bogged down by superstitions, to questions, to question and to find rational answers, through his innumerable expositions. Premanand fast became a nightmare to the greater than the greatest of the human gods. Whether it was Sathya Sai Baba, Balayogi, Pilot Baba or the baba who blessed the childless with children, Premanand was sure to expose their deeds. Childless women, for sure, would never wish divine powers to entervene, if they were to hear Premanand's account of how this wish is made to come true. He even grew a beard to be in the guise of an ardent devotee and watch closely the tricks of the trade and later practise them for his exposition.

The result is, today, anybody who possesses the prerequisites mentioned earlier, could undergo an unimaginably short training from Premanand to be able to walk on fire, invoke yagnas with 'mental powers', pierce a trishul through one's tongue, produce Shiva linga through one's mouth, produce holy ash from hands, coins or photographs and acquire a host of other 'supernatural powers' and emerge as yet another godman.

But for his penchant for reason and lack of guile, Premanand himself would have done exceedingly well as a godman having been bestowed with all the attributes that go into making one. Author of the "Lure of Miracles" and several other books and articles espousing the cause of rationalism and scientific temper, Premanand has toured extensively and has covered almost six thousand villages in his Vignan Yatra programme to educate people to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform, denouncing the "super-humans". The response has been both encouraging and bleak. During one of his talks at Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, Bombay, Premanand realised that half of the scientists present at the talk were ardent supporters of Sathya Sai Baba.

Speaking of the Indian Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (Indian CSICOP), (a co-operating member of the International organisation with its head quarters at Buffalo, THE COMMITTEE FOR THE SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION OF CLAIMS OF THE PARANORMAL), based at Podanur 641 023, Coimbatore District, Tamilnadu, of which Premanand is the Convenor, he says, "The members of this committee, like those of the Rationalist movement all over the world are engaged in dispelling the superstitions and blind beliefs that have gripped the society in India and the world. They endeavour to instill in the minds of the people, a scientific temper and rational outlook towards life and the belief that it is only through human effort, knowledge, and understanding, that inter-personal and other problems facing the society can be solved. The Indian Committee does not accept any membership fee but expects each member to devote time and energy investigating the paranormal phenomena in their places."

His special enquiry into Sathya Sai Baba's deeds have taken Premanand to great lengths. Having done a great deal of research on the Baba's activities. Premanand has compiled a neat and exhaustive list of gold articles materialised by the Baba and the blessed recipients who seem to be VIPs of various cadre. He is the first one ever to have sued the Baba to court in Andhra Pradesh High Court under the Gold Control Act for having blatantly violated Section 8 of the Gold Control Act, 1968 which provides restriction regarding acquisition, possession and disposal of Gold; Section 11 which provides prohibition regarding making, manufacturing etc., of primary gold articles, ornaments, etc., Section 14 which provides submission of monthly accounts, and section 16 which provides for declaration of articles or ornaments. However, thanks to the godman's divine powers, the judiciary absolved him of all his charges! This has by no means inflicted a set back to Premanand's undaunted struggle. If anything at all, it has strengthened his will and his might to fight these evils. His belief that truth will prevail is that motivates him. He is sure that there will come a day when his case will not be dismissed by just three sentences, "Petition read, petitioner heard, petition dismissed."

Premanand very justifiably questions "Why doesn't Sathya Sai Baba materialise gold and distribute it among the poor? Why doesn't he put his finger in the dry wells of the drought stricken areas and serve mankind? Why let the divine powers go waste and not apply it for the betterment and larger interest of mankind! Premanand traces all this irrationality to its root, which he pinpoints as "fear" that derives from a wide range of sources. And this fear he says can be combated only by facing one's problems with the strength that comes from being rational.

Yes, exciting it has been, but not without the due share of unpleasant risks, dangers and threats to Premanand's life, some godmen have even used their "supernatural power" to have his car meet with an accident. He has been harassed by the police, thrown into jail under false charges and has even had tax raids to his house. All this has further intensified Premanand's determination.

Indeed, miracles do not exist except in the poet's imagination and fool's dreams. The question, therefore, is what is the solution? Is it, education alone? If so, what kind of education and how would that be imparted? For a quicker relief from godmen and for an environment that would constantly prevent the formation of new ones, wouldn't we need more Premanands, Kovoors and Narasimhaiahs?

The University of Regensburg neither approves nor disapproves of the opinions expressed here. They are solely the responsibility of the person named below.

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Last update: 23. October 1998